Hassan Whiteside made it no secret he wanted to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
So it was understandable Monday that after finishing a distant third in the voting to the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, Whiteside, the NBA’s leading shot blocker, found little solace in simply being in the discussion for the league’s top defensive honor.
“I mean I’m used to not getting credit for what I do. I mean, I’m not surprised,” said Whiteside, who received only two first-place votes compared with the 84 for Leonard and 44 for Golden State’s Draymond Green, who finished second overall for the league’s top defensive honor.
“Let one of them guys get 10-plus steals in a game, you all would be outraged,” Whiteside continued. “The world would stop.”
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Playing his first full season in the NBA, Whiteside finished with 269 blocks — the second-most in Heat history and 92 more than the next highest player in the league this season.
Two weeks ago when he was asked if he had a message for Defensive Player of the Year voters, Whiteside quipped: “I want y’all to go to Toys ‘R’ Us and put up each block for how many blocks I’ve got for the season and just look at it and just be like, ‘That’s a lot of blocks.’ And then y’all vote.”
Apparently not many did. Of the 130 media members who voted, the two who gave Whiteside first-place votes were Heat announcer Eric Reid and Pelicans announcer and former NBA guard David Wesley.
Of the 17 announcers who work national jobs for TV rights-holders ESPN and TNT, only four put Whiteside on their top three ballots: Chris Broussard, Jon Barry, Mike Tirico and Mark Stein. Each had Whiteside third.
“I guess I’m thankful,” Whiteside said. “I’m happy I’m there, I guess. I don’t know. I’m not really. It is what it is.”
Asked if he was optimistic he would win, Whiteside responded: “You put up historic numbers in blocks — what would you do?”
Alonzo Mourning, who won Defensive Player of the Year twice with the Heat, told Whiteside prior to the season he needed to make it his goal to win the league’s top defensive honor and lead the league in rebounding.
Whiteside said he hadn’t spoken to Mourning since learning he finished third. “There’s nothing to talk about,” Whiteside. “I came out there and I put up stats y’all ain’t seen in a decade. Ain’t nothing to talk about.”
As angry or disappointed as Whiteside might be, Dwyane Wade said he was happy to see that reaction from the 7-foot center.
“I mean I wasn’t pleased the year I [finished] third [in the MVP voting] either,” Wade said. “I’m just going to throw it out there. I was [mad].
“Hassan wanted to win it no doubt about it. [Third place] is pretty good. That’s a good thing. But you want to see him not happy with that. You want to see that competitiveness in him to now go out and continue to prove he’s a great defender.”
Wade, who said he considers himself one of Whiteside’s toughest critics, felt the same way coach Erik Spoelstra did about Whiteside’s defensive performance this season.
Both said if judged solely by the second half of the season Whiteside might have had a stronger case for the award.
“It would’ve been interesting to see if the voting — if he would’ve been able to put together [what he did] post-All-Star for an entire season,” Spoelstra said. “But he’s made incremental improvements each month. It hasn’t been an ‘Aha! moment.’ It’s been two steps forward, one step back, one step forward. He keeps on working at it. He’s been dedicated to it. He’s understanding now that winning defensive plays don’t necessarily show up in a boxscore.
“And he’s making more of those, which is now allowing him to have more of an impact in the paint. And that might mean he has less blocked shots.”
Based on the league’s defensive win shares, Leonard and Green deserved to finish first and second, respectively. Whiteside ranked tied for 58th with a defensive win shares rating of .038.
“The game is different now,” Wade said. “It’s about analytics. It’s about plus/minus. It’s about all these things and he got off to a slow start early in the year from that standpoint.
“Hassan blocked shots like no other. But he got off to a slow start. Then in the second half of the season he started putting it together when he started understanding adjustments he had to make. But no one can bat an eye at Kawhi Leonard winning Defensive Player of the Year — nobody.”
Wade said in the long run Whiteside’s growth this season is what has impressed him the most. Wade said Whiteside has learned great defense is more than just about blocking shots.
“He’s making steps,” Wade said. “This is his first full year in the NBA and he ended up third.
“Next year he has another year and another crack at it.”